News Roundup and Notes: July 18, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Russia and Ukraine

A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane crashed while flying over the east Ukraine region of Donetsk yesterday, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that the aircraft was struck by a ground-to-air missile, while the Ukrainian government placed blame on pro-Russian rebels and Russia for what it denounced as an “act of terror” [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne et al.; Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Anthony M. Faiola].

While pro-Russian separatists have denied responsibility, Ukraine’s security agency, the SBU, has released what it says are recordings of intercepted phone calls between rebels and Russian military intelligence officers, in which a rebel is heard saying, “We have just shot down a plane” [Kyiv Post; Washington Post]. AFP (Dmitry Zaks) reports that deleted social media posts by pro-Russian rebels suggest that the separatists believed they had shot down a Ukrainian military plane, before realizing it was a commercial, civil plane.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Ukraine was responsible for the shooting, stating that “the country over whose territory this happened bears the responsibility for this horrible tragedy” [The Hill’s Mario Trujillo].

Pro-Russian rebels have said they will grant investigators access to the crash site of the Malaysian Airlines plane [BBC], although the Wall Street Journal (Andy Pasztor and Jon Ostrower) highlights the “daunting challenges” facing the investigation.

The Telegraph (Nick Allen) reports on rumors that the “black box” from Flight MH17 has been given by rebel separatist groups to Russian authorities and that the box is on its way to Moscow.

The White House issued a statement urging all parties in the conflict “to support an immediate cease-fire” in order to provide safe access to the crash site for international investigators. While pledging assistance to the investigation, the White House said that the shooting “occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training.”

Leaders around the world have also demanded an international investigation into the incident, the scale of which could mark a turning point for boosting global pressure to resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine [Reuters’ Anton Zverev]. The New York Times (Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear) similarly suggests that the shooting could bolster Obama’s efforts to counter Russia, if enough evidence highlights Moscow’s complicity.

The New York Times’ editorial board argues that the downing of the airplane should send a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the “Ukrainian conflict has gone on far too long, and it has become far too dangerous.” The editorial board at the Washington Post writes that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine “is both criminal and intolerable and should be treated accordingly,” urging the U.S. and its allies to insist that those responsible are held accountable and “not allow Russia and its agents to carry out a cover-up.”

Robert Wall and Alan Cullison [Wall Street Journal] focus on the sophisticated missile system that would be needed to bring down a high-flying passenger plane, noting that both Ukraine and Russia possess such systems, although some separatists have also previously claimed possession.

Clive Irving [The Daily Beast] gives thought to why the Malaysia Airlines flight was permitted to fly above eastern Ukraine, and how war zones are defined today.  And The Hill (Keith Laing) reports that a number of airlines are avoiding flying over Ukraine in the wake of current events.

Israel-Palestine

After efforts to reach a ceasefire collapsed, Israel launched a ground incursion in the Gaza strip last night. Haaretz has live updates of the situation as it develops. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation was launched “in order to damage the underground terror tunnels constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory.” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri responded saying, “we warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act” [Reuters’ Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell].

Palestinian health officials reported that 27 Palestinians had been killed since the ground offensive began on Thursday, with nearly 2,000 wounded, and Israel said that one of its soldiers had been killed [Haaretz].

Speaking on Israel’s decision to launch a ground offensive, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “I regret that despite my repeated urgings… an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further” [UN News Centre]. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Netanyahu to “avoid further escalation” of the crisis and limit the scope of the operation during a phone call Thursday [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday that Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza have been “deliberately disproportionate” and amount to “collective punishment” [Reuters’ William James].

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a resolution supporting Israel last night, condemning unprovoked rocket fire and calling on Hamas to cease all attacks on Israel [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox].

The Haaretz editorial board warns against a large-scale ground incursion in Gaza, stating that “[f]rustration over Hamas’ rejectionism must not translate into continued mass killings of civilians.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board notes that “it’s hard to see what other choices [Israel’s] leadership had to defend its citizens from the terror group Hamas” due to Hamas’ unwillingness to accept a ceasefire and unrelenting rocket strikes.

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Nathan Thrall argues that the “current escalation in Gaza is a direct result of the choice by Israel and the West to obstruct the implementation of the … Palestinian reconciliation agreement.”

The Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor warns that the precedent set by Israel’s past ground offensives in Gaza shows that “it’s not the Israelis but the Palestinians who will suffer most.”

David Rothkopf [Foreign Policy] writes on the “slaughter of innocents” and how civilian deaths highlight “with indelible and deeply disturbing images the hubris of leaders who delude themselves into believing they can control the uncontrollable.”

Glen Greenwald [The Intercept] reports that an acclaimed NBC News correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin, who witnessed the killing of four boys on a beach in Gaza yesterday, has been ordered by NBC to leave Gaza immediately due to security concerns arising out of Israel’s decision to launch a ground invasion.

Isabel Kershner [New York Times] reports on details arising from court documents on the death of Arab teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir. Israel’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that it considered the youth to be “a victim of terrorism,” entitling the boy’s family to the same compensation as that received by Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism.

Surveillance, privacy, and technology

The CIA’s station chief in Berlin has left the country, as ordered by Germany last week, over the case of two German officials accused of spying for the U.S. [Wall Street Journal’s Andrea Thomas].

Josef Joffe [Wall Street Journal] notes that the latest spying dispute with Germany demonstrates that “spycraft overwhelms statecraft,” and argues that “the world’s mightiest nation should know that ‘intelligence’ also means ‘prudence’ and ‘wisdom.’”

In a wide-ranging interview with The Guardian (Alan Rusbridger and Ewen MacAskill), Edward Snowden revealed that NSA employees routinely shared intercepted pictures of individuals in “sexually compromising” situations. Snowden said he would be willing to face a jury trial in the U.S. if the charges against him allowed a public interest defense.

The founder of SpiderOak, the secure file storage firm, said that his company has witnessed a 50% increase in site traffic and signups since Snowden’s revelations of mass government surveillance [The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss].

Bloomberg Businessweek (Michael Riley) reports on the FBI investigation into how Russian hackers attacked NASDAQ in 2010. Among other things, the investigation uncovered that the actions of hackers, including Chinese cyber-spies, had gone unreported for years.

Other Developments

ISIS fighters have reportedly seized a gas field in the Syrian central province of Homs, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [Al Jazeera]. Katherine Zimmerman [Washington Post] writes on the “Yemen model” of counterterrorism, and why Obama’s suggestion that it could be applied in Iraq and Syria is flawed.

The New York Times (Matthew Rosenberg) reports that Afghanistan has begun the audit of votes from last month’s presidential election runoff. The process is being monitored by American and UN observers. Meanwhile, in the wake of two large-scale terrorist attacks in the past days in Afghanistan, intelligence and security officials have said that the Haqqani militant network is considered to be back on the offensive [New York Times’ Carlotta Gall].

The Wall Street Journal (Saeed Shah et al) writes that the Pakistani army is not targeting Afghanistan’s Haqqani network in its operation in the North Waziristan region, as the group left the area just as the operation began, according to local tribesmen and U.S. officials.

Reuters (Jibran Ahmad) reports that eight members of a Pakistani government paramilitary force were killed by militants in a midnight attack in the northwest of the country, according to security officials. Al Jazeera reports that a further nine people were killed in a shootout in the city of Lahore and a roadside bomb in the northwestern town of Hangu.

Al Jazeera America has learned that at least 14 Tunisian soldiers were killed yesterday in an attack by “gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades,” in what is the deadliest attack on the country’s forces in recent history.

Reuters (Ulf Laessing and Feras Bosalum) writes that the Libyan militia, responsible for the recent battle for control of Tripoli International Airport, has reportedly said it is ready to agree on a ceasefire.

Albert J. Shimkus Jr. [Miami Herald] writes that the professional medical community should support the U.S. Navy nurse who refused to participate in force feeding at Guantánamo Bay.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).